July 16, 2009
Over the years, I’ve visited nearly 30 countries in North America, South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Europe (where I’ve traveled so many times I’ve completely lost count).
But I’ve never been to Africa. And as an African-American, that sounds pretty pathetic.
Places on the continent are always on my mental “to-do” list, West African countries like Senegal and North African ones like Egypt and Morocco. But I haven’t made it there yet.
I started thinking about this during President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Ghana. Sure, he was there to send a message to the African world about the United States’ ongoing support—albeit with conditions that included self-responsibility—but what impressed me most about this native son’s return to his father’s home continent was the fact he took his wife Michelle, daughters Sasha and Malia, and First Mom-in-Law Marian along on the trip.
While we know the Obamas have visited Africa before—going to Kenya to meet the president’s relatives—this trip had to have especially important significance for First Lady Michelle, her mom and even the girls, as all are the descendants of both African-American slaves and white slaveowners. Visiting the “Door of No Return,” where mothers, fathers and children were violently and permanently separated from their homeland and shipped across the Atlantic as chattel, must have been mind-blowing. It’s a horribly painful part of American history, but as black folks, it’s ours. And it’s important for us to own it—and in the process, make that reconnection to the continent that often feels far away and foreign to many of us.
Which brings me back to my original point: Can we black Americans really feel well-traveled if we’ve never set foot on African soil? I’m starting to think “NO.”
While unlike President Obama, who knows his ancestral country and village, most of us don’t know specifically from where our foreparents hailed. We generally assume it was someplace in West Africa since that’s where most slaves sent to the New World lived, but can’t claim that direct connection to Senegal or Guinea or The Gambia. Still, many black folks who have traveled to these places describe a sense of feeling “at home” once they arrived, as if those centuries-old mystical links broken during the Middle Passage somehow felt restored.
But I’m curious what you guys think. For those of you who HAVE visited Africa—and I’m talking anywhere on the continent—how did it change you and your outlook on who you are? Did you feel like you had “come home?” And how important was it for you to make that reverse trip across the ocean?
As for me, I think I’m going to start planning that African journey now.
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